With the recent launch of the mobile web app The Green Book of South Carolina, the state’s tourism industry has found an innovative way to meld the past and the present to create a unique and inherently African-American experience. Created by the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the Green Book of South Carolina is the first ever mobile travel guide designed to guide tourists through various African-American cultural and historical sites across South Carolina.
While the Green Book of South Carolina website officially launched just a few weeks ago in mid-May, according to Dawn Dawson-House, a member of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission and director of Corporate Communications for the South Carolina Department of Parks and Recreations and Tourism, Green Books, whose purpose was to aid the African-American travel experience have been around for decades. In a phone interview, Dawson-House explained that Green Books were originally physical guide books that marked out safe harbors and welcoming establishments for African-American tourists and travelers across the United States in the days of Jim Crow.
“Early leisure travel for African-Americans was marked by the Negro Motorist Green Books,” Dawson-House said. “Green Books were very popular, atlas-styled books that outlined hotels and restaurants that African-Americans could go to during the times of segregation where they wouldn’t face any threats.”
According to Dawson-House, this was the major source of inspiration for the mobile website. “If we were going to have an African-American-centric travel product,” Dawson-House said, “we thought we should call it the Green Book as well.
“The attractions are different but the experience symbolizes how far we’ve come.”
To date, there are over 300 locations and attractions for tourists and residents alike to explore all over South Carolina’s 46 counties, ranging from historical districts and schools to culturally significant homes and churches. Every location is on the National Register or has a Historic State Marker, and there is a description of the historical significance of the site, pictures and a link to directions.
When asked her personal favorite location, Dawn-House mentioned one of the most popular destinations the Green Book has to offer, the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, which has the impressive distinction of being established as the first National monument to the Reconstruction Era by President Barack Obama. Other popular destinations include the Bertha Lee Strickland Museum in Seneca, Atlantic Beach and Historic Brattonsville in McConnells.
While the Green Book of South Carolina has many popular and well-tread destinations in its registry, it also is notable for shedding a light on hidden-gem locations whose historical significance is, perhaps, not as well known to tourists visiting the state.
One such location is The Cigar Factory in Charleston, which recently received a historical marker. According to Dawn-House, The Cigar Factory, now a commercial and retail hub, was originally a cigar factory staffed with hundreds of Black, female workers who rolled cigars by hand and eventually went on strike. While on strike, one of the workers began to sing the spiritual “I Will Overcome,” which eventually was rewritten and became the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” in turn making The Cigar Factory the unofficial birthplace of the Negro national anthem.
The Green Book of South Carolina is rife with stories such as this, and it’s Dawson-House and the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s goal to publicize and share these stories with the thousands of tourists who visit South Carolina every year.
“The purpose of the book,” Dawson-House states, “is to bring all these prominent, important stories to one location and share them with the travel market so travelers can know the depth and breadth of the African-American experience, to pull together the complex stories and history of African-Americans into a single spot.”
That’s one of the reasons why they decided to make a mobile app instead of a physical guidebook. Dawson-House said that the South Carolina African American Commission decided on a mobile, web-based app designed for smartphones and tablets after researching the shifting nature of tourism and trip planning in South Carolina. The easy-to-use web interface assists users with trip planning and navigation, and also is continuously being updated with new historic landmarks and markers, as well as information about the pre-existing landmarks.
“With the Green Book of South Carolina mobile travel guide, the S.C. African American Heritage Commission is introducing a game changer for cultural tourism to South Carolina,” says S.C. Senator Vincent Sheheen, who championed the project. “This is one of the first statewide mobile travel guides to African-American heritage and cultural destinations to be produced by a state anywhere in the U.S., and it is positioned to increase even further the $2.4 billion annual economic impact of African-American tourism in our state.”
While the economic growth potential of The Green Book of South Carolina is exciting, Dawson-House is more excited about the potential for the book to contribute to the education of the public.
“The more people travel, the more they explore, the less bigoted they are,” Dawson-House says. She hopes that The Green Book of South Carolina will heighten the visibility of important cultural and historical locations for African-Americans in South Carolina and give consumers another layer of experience when they shape their travel experience in South Carolina.
“Exposure through travel is the greatest cure for bigotry,” says Dawson-House.